Jaxon Shipley's return proves key

Jaxon Shipley return from a knee injury allowed Texas to use more three receiver formations. John Albright/Icon SMI

AUSTIN, Texas -- Lost in the chaos that was the Case McCoy scramble and the Justin Tucker kick was how Jaxon Shipley might have won the Texas A&M game.

And it wasn't with his 41-yard touchdown pass. Or his 27-yard reception. Or with his two other catches. Those plays helped, sure. But where the wide receiver's contribution was immeasurable was on a simple route tucked inside in a series of offensive mishaps.

Trailing 13-0 to start the second quarter and faced with a first-and-10 at its own 44, Texas called Shipley's number on a little five-yard slant, something where he could get the ball in space and go. But Shipley slipped, and McCoy threw the ball behind him. The Aggies' Lionel Smith was in perfect position to make the interception, take the ball to the house and throw more meat to the voracious Kyle Field crowd.

But Shipley, reached back with his hand and knocked the ball down. Crisis averted.

One series later, Shipley threw his touchdown pass to give Texas its first score of the game.

"He's a guy, that in big games, will make big plays," Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. "And that's why it's important to have him out there."

The thing is, he makes the small plays too, and that is why it is important to have Shipley out there.

For three games, Texas didn't have him. The freshman came down on a Kansas defender's foot, twisted his knee and his ankle. Shipley jogged up and down the sideline minutes later, trying to signal to the trainers and the coaching staff that he was OK. He wasn't. That was his last action until preparations for the Aggies began.

He played the Texas A&M game with a heavily tapped leg and knee brace. He also played with the abandon that he has been known for in his short time at Texas.

"He's a guy that provides a spark out there offensively, not just game time, but practice wise," Harsin said. "You want to try and get the ball in his hands and let him go play, because he is that type of guy. He's a guy that demands the ball."

And this is an offense that needs him to have the ball.

The passing game, which truly only flourished against UCLA, had been lacking a leader since his departure. Mike Davis, who many predicted was on the verge of becoming a top-flight Big 12 receiver, has been demoted to second team because of his ineffectiveness.

That leaves, Shipley, freshman Miles Onyegbule and Marquise Godwin as the best wide receiver options. Add to that the issues at quarterback, and it is little wonder why Texas can't move the ball through the air.

But still, they all know they will have to do just that to be successful.

"There's more people hugging the line of scrimmage," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "For us to be better we have to throw the ball, and that will loosen it up."

With Shipley healthy, Texas now can go back to some three-wide-receiver sets. That will force more players out of the box. That could help Texas balance its offense.

Additionally, Shipley will go over the middle of the field and does well in both running and catching the ball in traffic. That can help take some pressure off the outside receivers and get the vertical passing game going.

Then there is his versatility. Shipley has thrown two touchdowns passes. He also has 11 rushing attempts for 54 yards. And despite missing three games, is only four catches behind Davis for the team lead in receptions and does lead Texas in receiving yards per game with 59.

"He's got a lot of different abilities," Harsin said. "We talked about Shipley when he got here, just his habits, I think his mentality, the attitude he brings, it just seems to lift everybody up a little bit more when he's out there on the field. We all like how competitive he is, and how he prepares and what he brings to the table just in that type of standpoint on the field."

"He's a guy that just needs to be on the field for us, and he came out of the game no worse than going in, so hopefully he'll even be better this weekend at Baylor."

Given what Shipley was able to do against the Aggies, it is not too hard to fathom that he will be.